There is a new political joke here in the Mountain State. "The good news is that you can still by West Virginia. The bad news is, boy, is it expensive."
The joke grew out of the gubernatorial campaign.
As it became apparent eight years ago that coal and other big-money interests temporarily had crushed his hopes of election as governor of his adopted state, a gangly young candidate turned to his friends and vowed, "I'll never be outspent again."
That was a joke, according to now-Gov. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV.
But when a Rockefeller talks about money, people listen. And flippant or not, no one has come even close to outspending him in two elections since then, both of which he won.
Earlier this month, Rockefeller was elected to a second term as governor after spending about $12 million, all but about $250,000 of it from his own very deep pockets. it was the costliest political campaign ever in this country for a statewide race. this Rockefeller, a Democrat, broke the old record of $10 million set by one of his Republican uncles, Nelson, during his reelection campaign for governor of New York in 1966.
During the campaign, supporters of the Republican nominee, Arch Moore, a two-term governor who beat Rockefeller in 1972, came up with a bumper sticker that said, "Make Him Spend It All, Arch." The governor's defenders came back with, "Spend It, Jay, It's Yours," and that seemed best to capture the mood of the electorate.
Rockefeller's convincing 54-to-46 percent victory over Moore, the most successful GOP vote-getter in West Virginia history, stands in stark contrast to the drubbing the party took nationally, and has led him to be mentioned among new faces the party should turn to in the future.
But Charles Peters, editor of the Washington Monthly and the person perhaps most responsible for Rockefeller's going to West Virginia in the first place, said, "Jay's campaign was not, as many of my friends in Washington believe, aimed at the future. The truth is, many of his friends would like for him to be looking in that direction. And it doesn't mean that he doesn't have ambition, or is not capable of seeing himself in that light. It's also true that the idea has occurred to him. But Jay is a very presently focused person. He has a hard time looking ahead. So for now, I'm sure, he just wants to be the best governor in the history of the state."
Says Donovan McClure, another West Virginia now working in Washington:
Rockefeller "enjoys hearing others talk about him being in the Oval Office some day, but he won't participate in those conversations. About the closest he will come is not to discourage the talk." It was McClure who recalled Rockefeller's remark that he would never be outspent again.
During an interview in his oakpaneled office at the statehouse were last week, Rockefeller said "there was no decision to spend X amount."
"Suppose i had spend half?" the governor mused. "There would have been the same things said and written."
But some of the governor's savvier supporters believe the record spending will haunt him, whether he runs for the Senate in 1984, when senior Democrat Sen. Jennings Randolph is expected to step down, or does make a run at the White House.
"It was overkill," said former Democratic state chairman and national committeeman Tony DiTrapano of the mammoth outlay, which included a $4.5 million television campaign -- $800,000 of which was spent on Pittsburgh stations and $500,000 on Washington channels.
"With his [good] record, the spending was superfluous, counterproductive, a tactical error," DiTrapano said.
Loser Moore said, "I'm not in the sour grapes business, but had there been anywhere near the equality of resources -- although i don't know what the hell I would have done with all of his money -- the outcome of the election would have been reversed." Moore said the final financial report, due Thursday, will show that he spent just under $900,000.
On the other hand, Troy Stewart, a political science professor at Marshall University and a Moore supporter, said, "I'm not so sure" that the money made the difference. "Jay did engage in a bit of overkill. His computerized letter campaign, for instance, resulted in some families getting 8 or 10 different mailings, each geared to a specific audience. But it was largely a contest of personalities that heightened interest in the race, not the dollars."
But James Whisker, a political science professor at West Virginia University who also supported Moore, said, "If you can't win by spending $1 per capita, it's immoral." (Rockefeller's Expenditures amounted to about $30 for each vote he got.) Whisker said that before Rockefeller began his media binge, Moore was ahead in the polls, "but as Jay's money spread out, the polls showed Moore declining.Rockefeller was marketed like a pair of panty hose, or a household cleanser."
On the other hand, whether they live up one of the sooty mining hollows, in a grimy chemical or steel town or on a tranquil mountain slope, West Virginians, long self-conscious about an image as poor, ignorant hillbillies, appear to take pride in the selection of their richest families as the base for his political ambitions. And if a Rockefeller manages to use his success here as a steppingstone to national office, well, there is pride in that too.
Rockefeller, in fact, may be sanguine about his big spending because part of it paid for an in-depth psychological study which found that voters here were no more troubled by how much he was spending than they were that his opponent had been accused of corruption, once being acquitted of extortion, and twice overcoming accusations of tax fraud by the Internal Revenue Service.
Rockefeller scoffs at the idea that the commercials -- featuring out-of-state industrialists, fellow governors and just plan folks extrolling "Jay" -- were shown on Washington stations to get The attention of the nation's opinon leaders.
"If that was a benefit that came out, it was very much of a byproduct," Rockefeller said. But he admitted "it was amusing" to get a telephone call from his father-in-law, Republican Sen. Charles Percy of Illinois, reporting that "Jesse Helms thinks your commercials are the best he's ever seen."
Rockefeller insisted the real reason for the costly media campaign was that "more than 20 percent our people get only out-of-state television stations. I was determined to reach those people on issues in every way I could . . . to either make a choice that people in the eastern part of the state will vote on party, previously held instincts about me or my opponent, or they will vote on something more intelligent. If i had used television to demean my opponent, that would have been unuseful. But I used it to hold out a vision, a very clear agenda.
Rockfeller said he was pleased with the results. Of the seven counties that receive Washington television, he carried five, including Berekely, which he lost by 5,000 votes four years ago.
The commercials were so pervasive on Washington stations that some students at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., asked whom they voted for in the school's mock election for president, jokingly replied, "Jay."
The elaborate media campaign was put together by David Garth and Associates of New York, which prompted James E. Comstock, editor-publisher of The West Virginia Hillbilly, a weekly satirical review, to suggest that West (By God) Virginia should be renamed West (By Garth) Virginia.
"We never tried to run away from the fact that he was a Rockefller," said Phil Friedman, 27, one of two young Garth associates who directed the campaign. "The name is synonymous with money and power. There's no place to hide. And people wouldn't believe it if he did not [spend]."
"Although no one approves of the system the way it is, we also know of no instance of a candidate spending too much and losing," observed Hank Morris, 26, the other Garth associate. CAPTION: Picture, JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER IV . . . $11.75 million for reelection